How do other folks who are members of historically marginalized groups, and who write about race and gender and sexuality, wrestle with writing for mainstream spaces? Do they? Should we? Are there topics writers will not or should not discuss outside of a "safe space"? Are there story ideas writers reserve for "of color" or GLBT spaces?
I asked some smart, writerly, social justice-minded folks to weigh in. And I'll be sharing their thinking all this week. Today, Sparky of Spark in Darkness.
SPARKY (Spark in Darkness)
Ok, sorry this got really long. I think there are three stops I have to make on the way there.
I think some discussions are community discussions for various reasons. Mainly because I think there are some things that community members understand more clearly and more fully, and just in general, than those outside can. There are elements to being GBLT that straight, cis people quite simply cannot understand. And sometimes we want to discuss those things without having to go back and explain the 101 each time to the straight, cis folk – especially if it may be unexplainable (some things you have to live).
And sometimes – often – I don’t even think straight, cis folk have a place in the discussion. I have been in communities where we have had to break out the tiny violins to play sad, sad songs for outraged straight, cis folks who have told us what they think we should do/think/say/use. We've been told, sharply, that none of us care what they think. One of the natures of privilege is an unfortunate habit to take over; an unfortunate habit to assume one knows more than one does; and a distressing habit of presuming to instruct, inform or order marginalized people, despite the ignorance and sheer arrogance of doing so.
And this is before we consider damned ignorant folks stomping on our sore spots. I dislike having discussions about the "closet" in non-controlled spaces, for example, because I am sick to the back teeth of straight people telling me that [a person hiding his sexuality] is just like them hiding their political belief/religion/vegetarianism/favorite 80s cartoon/whatever other grossly inappropriate comparison they want to make. To say nothing of the constant homophobic response of “AT LEAST YOU CAN HIDE!” Ugh! I am not not not having those discussions again. I’m really not.
So, if you want to efficiently discuss (or vent/rant about) some things, you need to do it where you don’t have a heckling audience of clueless people.
OK, all of this is building up to "the othering". I promise. As for othering…Well, yes, I think some conversations inherently other us. Some discussions we have in straight, cis spaces can be about things that straight, cis people have never experienced and, indeed, can never experience. And that, in and of itself, is othering, simply by calling out unique issues. How can we be anything but other when we’re talking about something so out of the realm of their experience?
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing – sometimes we need the privileged world to see the other. We need them to see that X Y Z isn’t an issue they understand; it’s an other issue so they have to LISTEN to us because they cannot cannot cannot understand it on their own (and some they have to just trust us on this because there is little chance of them understanding at all). In short, we need straight, cis people to look BEYOND the realm of their own experience or at least accept that there IS something beyond the realm of their own experience. And doing so pretty much requires us to invoke the other.
Somewhat tangentially related, but there is something I think we need to add in this context: that is considering WHAT space we’re writing in and why we’re being asked to write there. Being a gay commentator/writer in a non-gay space to a non-gay audience, I often question the motives of the people who have asked me to speak. Once upon a time, invitations to submit a guest post were few and far between and I used to squee rather excessively because zomg, they liked me, they really liked me (Low self-esteem, alas.). I’d write for anyone and anything. But increasingly I have become more… cynical. I’ve checked out blogs/communities/zines I’ve been asked to submit to and sometimes found that they have zero GBLT content. None at all. And I would be the one gay submission in an ocean of straightness.
At which point I ask, do they even want to read what I have to say? Do they actually care what I’m talking about? Or do they just want someone they can point to so they can wave some kind of intersectionality banner? Do they want the token gay man so they can pre-emptively defend against claims of heterosexism/homophobia/erasure? Am I contributing or am I quota filling? Am I really part of this, or am I the mascot?
Tami: But on the other hand, would it not be a positive thing to have your voice added to a space where there is no other gay representation? I mean, it sucks to be that person--"the only." You’re forced to exist in the position of educator and you are likely to get a heap of push back from audiences who don’t understand hetero privilege, etc. But, is it ultimately better that there be the voice of one gay man in an editorial space vs. no voice at all?
But then I guess we’re back to the erased vs. present and marginalized discussion again...
Sparky: I think we have to put on our cynical hats and check the space, the intentions of the people behind the space and their usual audience/commenters. When we’re put in the position to be the educator, there’s no point if the educatee doesn’t want to be educated. Am I being invited to teach people who want to learn (which is still problematic since it casts me as a servant) or am I there to make up the numbers, fill the quotas and pinkwash a site/zine/blog/conversation? Are they going to even read and consider what I write? Do they care what I have to say, truly or are they going to say “See, we got us a gay man! GO INCLUSIVITY!”
I think it’s important to check and be leery of this, not because it can waste my time and effort and expose me to people I don’t want to be exposed to, but because I risk being used as a Rainbow Shield. Just as people invoke the dreaded “gay friend,” I risk becoming the “I’m not homophobic! I have a gay contributor!” token. I don’t want to become some site’s Log Cabin Republican. Or [I don't want] the idea that my presence has filled the quota and that’s it. They don’t have to think how heterosexist or outright homophobic their posts are. Or the site will wave the intersectionality flag on the strength of my one article, while going back to being a single issue place. When this happens, I’m not a servant - I’m a tool.
So when I look, I check a few things and put them all together: 1) Have they ever paid more than a token glance at GBLT issues? 2) Am I the only GBLT person? 3) Do they show better than 101 knowledge? 4) What’s the heterosexism level? 5) Is their comment section made up of rabid homophobic vultures?
Tomorrow: Comments from New Black Woman
Read part one in the series